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Minister Flanagan urges Irish businesses to seek new growth opportunities in Asia

Asia Matters Economic Innovation Award Dinner
Asia Business Week
Keynote address by Minister Charles Flanagan
9 July 2015

Lord Mayor, Chairman, Ambassadors, Distinguished guests,

I am delighted to be here this evening to meet with many of you who are at the forefront of developing and strengthening business links between Ireland and Asia.

Before going any further, I would like to express my thanks to Alan Dukes and Martin Murray of Asia Matters, and to Dublin City Council, the Dublin Institute of Technology and all the sponsors for their dedication and hard work in organising such an impressive programme of events and meetings this week.

I believe everyone here today comes with a strong recognition of the importance of our links with Asia, and hopefully, also with a degree of excitement about the many possibilities that the region offers.

In the past 20 years, China and India have almost tripled their share of the global economy and grown their economies almost six fold. Nine of the 10 fastest growing mega-cities in the world are in Asia. In years when economic growth in the western world was muted, many countries in Asia achieved consistent average annual GDP growth rates in the range of 5% to 8% per annum.

In 2014 Irish exports to Japan rose 4%, with total merchandise trade now valued at €3.5 billion, and trade in services of €3.6 billion in 2013. Also last year, merchandise exports to the Republic of Korea rose by more than a third. Product exports to ASEAN countries in 2014 were €1.2 billion and services exports to these countries in 2013 were €1.4 billion. This brief overview illustrates the strength of our trading relationship with Asia, but I believe that when we think of Asia we have to think not only of the now, but also of the tomorrow.

It is almost one year since I became Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the last 12 months have been a very exciting time for relations between Ireland and Asia, and I hope that many of you have witnessed and indeed experienced the positive events and changes that have happened in this time.

I accompanied our President on the State Visit to China last December, which was the first such visit in over 10 years. This was a hugely significant visit which took in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. It was my first opportunity to visit Asia since taking up my role, and I was struck by the warmth with which Ireland is viewed in places many thousands of miles away.

More recently, the Chinese Premier Li made a brief visit to the West of Ireland in May accompanied by 8 ministers, including my own counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Although the Premier and his delegation were only stopping over for a brief period, the visit afforded a great opportunity to deepen our bilateral links.

Prospects for advancing Chinese investment in Ireland were discussed – a major “Invest in Ireland” conference is planned in Beijing later this year.

We also agreed to see how connectivity between Ireland and China can be improved and to further strengthen people-to-people links, including educational exchanges.

As well as these talks, I had bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. These were very useful and we discussed a range of global issues as well as political and economic developments in the Asian region and in the EU.

I also recently had the opportunity to meet with the Indian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. VK Singh, during his recent visit to Ireland to attend the memorial service to mark 30 years since the Air India disaster in Ahakista. Following the service, we had the opportunity to meet to discuss a number of matters of mutual interest, and I have every confidence that we will continue to work closely on these and other issues to greatly enhance the links between our countries.

With a population of 1.2 billion people, and the largest democracy in the wold, India is hugely important emerging market for Irish business and investment. India, with its youthful population for example, offers huge potential in the education sector.
For my own department, 2014 was a very significant year as we greatly expanded our own representation in Asia with the opening of Embassies in Jakarta and Bangkok, and a Consulate in Hong Kong. Notably, both of our new embassies are located in ASEAN member states, a region whose importance is rapidly growing. Some ASEAN member states such as Indonesia are markets where Irish companies have not traditionally operated, but where growth rates of 5% per annum or more are expected, and in December of this year, ASEAN will launch its Economic Community to free up the movement of goods, capital, services and skilled labour throughout the region. We are very conscious of the importance of ASEAN and how have resident Embassies in 5 ASEAN member countries – Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

These emerging economies have huge growth potential for Irish exports and investment, though we must remember that winning business in new markets takes time, and we must be willing to take the time and effort needed to succeed there.

I have every confidence that our new and existing embassies are already making great strides in building these new relationships, but we also need more businesses in Ireland to consider seriously these less traditional markets.

While sectors such as financial services and aviation leasing offer some immediate potential, we also need to take a strategic approach and identify which areas have the potential to succeed over the longer term.

Increasing prosperity and demographic changes mean that ASEAN, and indeed much of Asia, is likely to have a significantly growing young middle class in the coming years.

Their needs will not be the same in 10 to 20 years as they are today, so I encourage you all to not only think about the current market, but to cast your minds forward and think about how you can best position your businesses to continue to succeed in 10-20 years’ time.

Our network of embassies and consulates in the region, in addition to the EI and IDA offices, are there to work with you, so I would urge you to consider how best you can use the resources available to maximise your success in Asian markets.

Initiatives such as supporting business networks is an important aspect of our newly launched Diaspora policy – ‘Global Irish’ – which I launched just last month.

Through the Emigrant Support Programme and through our embassy network, we assist Irish business networks overseas to help Irish business people and professionals to connect with each other, seek out new opportunities and ultimately advance themselves and their businesses. We want to facilitate their success and maintain their interest with and connection to Ireland.

The Emigrant Support Programme, and indeed our new Diaspora Policy, seek to drive and foster diaspora engagement and to help our emigrants to make the best of their lives abroad.

In many Asian countries, it can be very resource-intensive to build a presence. Compared with western, developed countries such as EU member states, the US or Canada, the relationship between the State and business enterprises is much closer in Asia. Political access and good relationships with decision-makers and opinion shapers are critical to trade and investment promotion in many parts of Asia.

My department will continue to do what we can to maximise the effectiveness of our presence in Asia, and I think that our recent openings of two new Embassies and a new Consulate in the region show that we absolutely take the need for resources there seriously.

There are many markets where we do not yet have strong name recognition, brand awareness, and trust which we have with our more traditional trading partners. This takes time to build, and one of the best ways to do this can be through education.
There is enormous respect for the strong importance Ireland has traditionally had for education, and there are many places in Asia where this is strongly understood thanks to Irish missionaries who have played a strong role in education there over the years, and more recently by the large number of Irish people teaching in Asia. However, there are many more places where we do not have this connection to build on, so there is much work to be done on this.

Foreign students who study in Ireland and then return home are extremely valuable for us: they spread awareness and knowledge of Ireland when they return, they are often interested in keeping up links and contacts with Ireland, and they often do very well in their home countries and become influencers and deciders, well disposed to Ireland. They can also be a significant tourism source as many of them later return as tourists who have fond memories of the time they spent here.

In countries where Ireland is not yet widely known, the positive effect of education can be very beneficial. This October Minister O’Sullivan will take the baton of ‘country of honour’ at the Chinese Education Expo, which gives us a major platform on which to build.

There are many more places where we have platforms to build on; we have some longstanding educational partnerships in Malaysia in the area of medical education, but growing links in other areas of education including biotechnology, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, food technology, nutrition and agriculture.

Another country which places huge value on education is Vietnam, where our Embassy has run a number of initiatives including TV programmes to promote Ireland as an education destination. Ireland offers scholarships for 40 Vietnamese students each year to study in Ireland. Many of these are very talented young people who I have no doubt will go on to become future leaders in their respective fields, following the example of Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, who was educated at TCD and UCD, and who has continued to be a great friend of Ireland.

Our education system is a great asset, and one which we should be using to help to make Ireland a truly global nation.

Improvements in connectivity have been key to global development, and this will be key in the future development of Asia. At a recent Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, I emphasised that improvements in this are key to the next stage of development in the Asian region.

Infrastructure could be transformative for the achievement of the post 2015 sustainable development agenda as well as poverty reduction, and these are key for the overall development of the region. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as well as ambitious ASEAN plans for improving regional connectivity could make a useful contribution in that regard.

Ireland supports exploring synergies between European networks policies and China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative; advancing our investment agreement and market access agenda, fostering convergence on views on global challenges; as well as promoting human rights and good governance.

Ensuring the EU’s relationship with Asia is inclusive and takes account of all countries in the region especially those with which we have or are building strategic partnerships is key, and is something which I have and will continue to raise at EU level. A stronger EU relationship with Asia will mean a stronger relationship between Ireland and Asia, and I will continue to work with my EU colleagues to make progress in this area.

At the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxemburg of the 22nd of June last, we discussed relations between the EU and Asia, considering issues such as how to enhance connectivity and trade. Connectivity is, I believe, key to the next stage of development in the Asian region.

I am also very delighted to be here tonight to celebrate tonight the achievements of an Indonesian company – Indorama – with a presence in Ireland.

I’m sure very few people would think of plastic recycling as a sector where Ireland and Indonesia would come together, but that’s the reality of modern international business – a global economy bound together by more links, more connections, more exchanges than we could ever have predicted. They are very worthy recipients of this year’s Asia Matters Economic Innovation Award.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today at a very exciting time. Ireland has come through a difficult number of years domestically, and we are re-emerging at a time when Asia is truly a land of opportunity. There are numerous new and emerging markets with huge growth potential, and we have sectors with the ability to succeed there.

Ireland offers first class food and agri-products and services, leading financial and legal services, excellent education programmes, world-class high-tech companies, the best location for inward investment in Europe, and much more besides these.
Across our Government, we are determined to do we can to support and develop our relationships with all of the countries of Asia. The last 12 months have been an exciting time, and I sincerely look forward to seeing what can be done in the next 12 months, and where we can go beyond that.

Thank you.